LEWISTOWN - "Load your weapon!" a voice called.
As they were leaving a building, Lewistown Police Sgt. Travis Sheaffer and Patrol Officer Ryan Williams heard a woman shouting. She was calling for help.
When they rounded a corner, the officers saw a man holding a young girl against her will and another man sitting on the floor. The girl struggled to release herself from his grip, while she kicked the second man away.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Patrol officer Ryan Williams, left, and Sgt. Travis Sheaffer, both of Lewistown Police Department, participate in a simulated hostage situation Wednesday at the LPD office with the National Guard’s Firearms Training Simulator. The simulator reinforces marksmanship skills, judgmental shoot/don’t shoot training objectives, concealed carry and weapons familiarization skills.
Sheaffer and Williams ordered the men to let her go. While she ran past them down the hallway, one man followed and threatened the officers repeatedly.
"Shoot me!" he insisted, adding, "You won't!"
One step further, and the officers tazed him - then the second man pulled a gun.
Within seconds, the officers fired a fatal shot to the second man's chest.
"Scenario complete," read a screen in front of them.
The scenario was one of 300 interactive video simulations offered by the Firearms Training System, also known as FATS, created by Meggitt.
Dan Kroff, training coordinator for the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center, in Fort Indiantown Gap, said simulations cover nearly every situation a law enforcement officer may encounter in the field. The FATS database of simulations includes abduction, airport and school situations, custody battles, motor vehicle stops, active shooters, mental health calls, domestic violence, officers down, hostage situations and more.
While officers stand in front of a wall-size screen, they react to real people in real situations. When they tell an offender to "put your hands up" or "drop your gun," Kroff selects scene changes from a computer in the back of the room. The system allows him to control the simulation's response or movements to either complicate or resolve each scenario.
"It makes (officers) think," Kroff said, adding that situations happen fast and require real-life communication between officers.
In another scene, Sheaffer and Williams were "walking" through a virtual stairway when a plain-clothed man quickly turned the corner and aimed a gun. Neither officer shot. They instructed the man to put the gun down. He complied, explaining that he also was a law enforcement officer and presenting his badge.
Kroff said some trainees react too quickly and make a fatal shot. Lewistown Police Chief William Herkert watched from the back of the room and said he was pleased at how the officers handled the situation.
As the group discussed how they performed, Sheaffer said it's important to perform as you train and train as you perform. The training coordinators noted that there are times when officers don't take training seriously and that it can affect their work in the field.
After working through about eight scenarios, the officers took a break.
Herkert said this is the first time the high-speed training has been offered in Lewistown. Training had been going on for two days, and about 30 officers from various law enforcement agencies participated each day.
"It's as close to real life situations as we can get," Herkert said, adding that the simulations are the latest technology in training officers.
The Firearms Training System costs about $200,000-250,000, but training sessions are being offered by the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center at no cost. Herkert said he plans to bring the program back again a few times each year. State, local and county law enforcement officers participated.